Thoughts on writing and reading for boys and young men.
There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure. -Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Review: Invasion (released 1.4.2011)

Invasion, a new book by Jon S. Lewis (writer for D.C. Comics), is the first installment of the new CHAOS series for young adults. We’re introduced to Colt McAlister (even sounds like an action hero, right?), who might soon become the next leader of the CHAOS organization, which has monitored the movements of—and protected Earth from—alien invaders since World War II.

But as the story begins, Colt is a typical teenager in San Diego, the youngest (at age 16) of eight boys (and the only one still living at home). He goes to school. He surfs. He plays video games.  Life is pretty good.

Then a drunk driver kills his parents in a car crash.

Colt moves in with his grandfather in Arizona and begins school, drifting through life following the abrupt loss of his parents.  Fortunately, a childhood friend (Danielle—a.k.a Dani) goes to his new high school.  Plus he meets a new friend, Oz.

But then weird things start happening. Colt is contacted by a man who claims to know a secret about his parents' death. And Oz points out that Grandpa McAlister might just be the real-life inspiration for the Phantom Flyer, a World War II era comic book hero.  All of the pieces start coming together—CHAOS, Trident Industries, the Phantom Flyer, his father’s military career (and—as Colt learns—CHAOS career).  And all the signs point to Colt becoming the next leader of CHAOS (even though he’s only a teenager).

Invasion is about confronting loss, dealing with high school, and navigating relationships with friends and family—all set against the backdrop of a mounting invasion by the Thule, who have poked at the weaknesses in the portal between their world and Earth (and who have been running Trident Industries from the inside, creating an army of drones to aid in the destruction of mankind).

Invasion by Jon S. Lewis
Thomas Nelson, 2011

The premise of Invasion is great. I like the comic-books-as-reality idea (I’ve often thought of comic books as contemporary American folklore), and I like the idea of an average teenage boy going through average teenage things while also going through something extraordinary (much in the way that Harry Potter endures the ins and outs of growing up while saving the world and such). 

But what Rowling does so seamlessly in the Potter series seems a little forced and clunky in this first installment of CHAOS.  For example, there’s a nice little interaction between Colt and his dad in chapter one, but it’s too quick, ends too soon, and oddly turns into a discussion about Trident and CHAOS (like that bit of information needed to be crammed into the beginning to fit a framework, instead of letting the story unfold organically from characters and situations).

But where the story lacks subtlety and nuance, it makes up for in action.  And by setting the stage as quickly and efficiently as Lewis does, we get to that action sooner rather than later. And there’s a lot of action! Reluctant readers will like that.

Plus the interactions between Dani, Oz, Colt, and Lily (Colt’s love interest) are well drawn. Lewis’s dialogue is sharp. The characters are fun. And he writes about awkward teen situations really well—like Colt worrying that he’s got something hanging from his nose or that he isn’t wearing deodorant.  That’s great stuff!  I only wish there was more of it.

Bottom line: the story is plot driven, for better or for worse.  Sure, some of the action seems preposterous and unnecessary, like when one of the Trident drones pours out a bag of miniature mechanical drones and stars controlling them (seriously, drones controlling drones?!), but it’s always in good fun.  Invasion is action packed, fast-paced with lots of dialogue, and ultimately a fun read.   

My only hope for the next installment (due out in January 2012) is that the action is more rooted in the emotions of the characters, that the physical problems of the novel are more intimately tied to the emotional life of the protagonist and his friends. And I’d like for readers to pick out and understand connections and developments for themselves, instead of being told how everything in the story fits together.


Recommended for ages 12-15.

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